The Role Of Bias In Clinical Decision-making Of People With Serious Mental Illness And Medical Co-morbidities: A Scoping Review

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Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research


The aim of this review was to examine the evidence for the impact of explicit and implicit biases against mental illness on the clinical decision-making of primary care physicians, medical students, and nurses when they are providing care to individuals with serious mental illness for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. Studies were identified by searching MEDLINE, EBSCO host, and PsychINFO. A total of 18 studies published between 1996 and 2020 were reviewed and summarized. The studies were divided into two groups—studies that used a simulation or vignette methodology and those with a qualitative approach (interviews and focus groups). Of the simulation/vignette studies that allowed participants to report what they would have done in various clinical scenarios, there were roughly equal numbers of neutral or negative clinical decisions that represented 80% of the relevant behavioral results. Only 21% of the findings demonstrated a clinical decision that was favorable towards people with mental illness. Of the qualitative studies, all of the studies reported behaviors (either self-reported or observed) that were likely to be biased against people with mental illness, while 3 of the studies reported mixed results. Healthcare provider bias against individuals with mental illness does exist and impacts clinical decisions negatively. Much more empirical work needs to be done to determine the full extent and impact of the problem, including how these decisions affect the lives of individuals with mental illness.

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